News

Republicans Raring for Reform of FCC

6/27/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — Republicans
have signaled they are serious
about reforming the Federal Communications
Commission, which
appears to be fine with the National
Cable & Telecommunications Association
and its largest member,
Comcast.

In the second House hearing on
FCC reforms in as many months,
what was at least a generally bipartisan
agreement that reforming the
agency is a good thing became divided
along party lines.

A Republican draft was billed as a
set of necessary ground rules by one
Republican and as a schooling in regulatory humility by
another.

DEFENDING ‘PUBLIC INTEREST’

Democrats saw the measure as an attack on the publicinterest
standard and a case of Republicans trying to prevent
regulatory outcomes they disagree with.

Republicans generally want the FCC to hew to deadlines
and stricter standards of justifying and implementing
regulations. Market and cost-benefi t analyses
should be employed,
and the regulatory standard
should be more
about preventing harms
than following some
“indeterminate” publicinterest
standard.

Democrats at the
June 22 hearing countered
that too strict a
regimen could actually
impede the process,
and could gut the public-
interest standard
that they argue should
be the FCC’s North Star.

Rep. Henry Waxman
(D-Calif.), ranking
member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee,
said the draft had “serious defects” that would make the
FCC “less efficient and more bureaucratic.”

He said the bill would impose undue burdens on the
FCC and that a cost-benefit analysis might be appropriate
for “a limited set of major rules,” but should not
become a basis for “years of litigation.” He also cited process
reforms under FCC chairman Julius Genachowski
as evidence the agency can reform itself “without the
need for action by Congress.”

Defending the draft was FCC critic Rep. Marsha Blackburn
(R.-Tenn.), who has been a strong critic of the agency’s
process and decision-making, particularly in its
imposition of new network-neutrality rules.

“[W]e need to move the agency away from an institution
driven by activists pursuing social outcomes to one
grounded in regulatory humility and statutory obedience,”
she said. “Congress should slam the FCC’s regulatory
back-door shut, lock it, and return the keys to the
free market.”

MERGER-TERM LIMITS

The draft would prevent the FCC from imposing merger
conditions that did not mitigate harms directly related
to a merger. It also would bar voluntary conditions
from being made part of a merger order unless they
were conditions that could be imposed under FCC authority
as a general rule.

NCTA president and CEO Michael Powell praised the
reform effort in general and said the proposals could promote
better decision-making. Kyle McSlarrow, the former
NCTA chief who’s now Comcast/NBCUniversal’s
Washington president, went further, calling it an “excellent
effort.” Comcast would work with Washington
to make sure that “appropriate” reform is forthcoming,
he said.

House Communications Subcommittee members
agreed that more than two commissioners should be
able to get together outside of public gatherings, so long
as both political parties were represented and no business
was done.

September